It’s Been Two Years Since I Let You Go

Five years ago tonight, I was standing in a UB parking lot, saying goodbye to my boyfriend and two friends from high school. When I made the decision to go to college in Boston, I wanted nothing more than to get out of Western New York. I was convinced I’d never come back. Nowhere within the state, save NYU, was even on my list of potential schools. And yet, as friends started leaving and the send-offs became harder and more tearful, I wanted nothing more than to keep things like they were. I cried a lot that night.

Five years later, I have my name on a flippin’ Boston.com blog. I need to let that sink in for a bit because even after four weeks of debating, accepting, planning and packing, I still can’t believe it. I want to laugh, freak out and cry of happiness all at once — mostly, I just want to break open a bottle of champagne. This time around, I’m a little less teary (though some of the hardest goodbyes are yet to be said and two of the unlikeliest friends just made me cry, so that’s probably not a great sign) and much less convinced that I’m never going to see my friends ever again, and my thoughts about leaving Buffalo are a little more mixed.

It’s nearly a cliche around here by now to say that “You can take the girl out of Buffalo, but you can’t take Buffalo out of the girl,” or some variant with the same sentiment — but the funny thing about cliches is that they’re usually true. Which is why I sit here know that this isn’t a permanent good-bye. I know this move is necessary, and I’m beyond thrilled to start a new chapter and take on this amazing opportunity, but I know I’m not done with this city. Ironically, I think that leaving Buffalo now will make me more prepared to come back and really make a difference around here in the future. It’ll be here waiting, and it’ll still feel like home, no matter how long our separation.

The truck is packed. The alarms for our 6 a.m. departure are set. An apartment, a job and friends (and, I hope, success) await, 458 or so miles away. Boston, I hope you’re ready for me — because, this time around, I’m ready for you.

How a Semi-Fictitious Groupie Helped Me Decide to Move to Boston

Penny Lane“I always tell the girls, never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt. If you never get hurt, you always have fun.” (Penny Lane, ‘Almost Famous’)

Sometime around sophomore year of high school, my dad sat me down on the old, slightly scratchy couch in our basement and made me watch ‘Almost Famous.’ I was a budding young journalist, writing for the teen section of my hometown newspaper, and his reasoning was something along the lines of, “If you really want to have a career in journalism, you need to see this movie.”

I loved it, every last second of it. I don’t watch movies a whole lot, but ‘Almost Famous’ is one I can sit down and watch again and again – always the ‘Untitled’ extended version – never tiring of it.

Every time I’m on an airplane, I find myself thinking of that movie. Usually, I’m trying not to think about the flight scene, the near-death experience that fuels William Miller’s story’s opening lines. But every time the flight attendants begin their safety schpeal, I think of Penny Lane (can’t find a clip — watch the movie and you’ll get it).

In high school, after watching the movie at my birthday party, a group of friends nicknamed me Penny Lane. Somehow, it’s stuck around, occasionally pulled out by those friends and a few others who know the story. And while I’ve always found it flattering, I’ve never quite gotten the comparison. Penny Lane is strong, determined and not quite fearless, but ready to face her fears. She’s up for any adventure, impetuous and driven mostly by her heart and emotions. I suppose, now that I think about it and type it out, I embody some of those traits, but for the most part, I’ve always thought that the similarities began and ended with our matching winter (or, it seems for her, year-round) coats.

So there I am last weekend, 30 thousand feet in the air, somewhere between Buffalo, N.Y., and Atlanta, thinking about ‘Almost Famous,’ Penny Lane and a job offer I’d received earlier that week. The offer was practically perfect: managing editor of a web magazine that I’ve written for since its inception and been an editor for for over a year, along with editor-in-chief of their new partnership with a newspaper. I say “practically perfect” because the job is quite a bit of a risk, not a lot of money – and in Boston. And because of all of that, the week had been filled with tears, worry and serious reflection, both internal and to others, about if I could make it work. When I got on that plane, I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

And then it hit me: Penny Lane would take that job. She would take the risk. Much like my friends and family had been telling me, she probably would have said, “You’re only young once. You’re supposed to take risks when you’re young. You’re supposed to do what makes you happy.” Or she just would have made me follow her to Morocco.

Well, this job will make me happy. All the positives — especially the fact that this will benefit my career — outweigh the potential negatives. So, I’m doing it. I’m embracing my inner Penny Lane, and, with the support and well wishes of my boyfriend, family and friends, I’m taking the leap. I’ll be moving over Labor Day weekend, and I’ll start my new job that following week. I don’t know what will happen, but I do know that if I don’t do this, I’ll regret it. And living with regret is no way to go through life.

“It’s all happening!” (Penny Lane, ‘Almost Famous’)

Of Female Reporters and Professional Sports — Is this the '50s??

In a 2007 New York Times article, Chuck Klosterman wrote one of the simplest, most dead-on (and one of my favorite) descriptions of professional sports locker rooms.

“It’s an uncomfortable situation; people are tired, people are naked and people are tall,” Klosterman explained.

The last part may be appropriate only in NBA locker rooms (Klosterman was, in fact, writing on Glibert Arenas) or those of NHL teams that employ 6’9” Slovak defensemen, but the sentiment is the same in locker rooms everywhere.

Am I the only one who actually finds her kind of...creepy?

While most people see sports reporting as a pretty sweet gig – and, OK, it is – it’s still a job. It still has its good, bad and downright awkward moments, the most awkward of which involves a smelly locker room, a crowd of cameras, microphones and notebooks, and a group of professional athletes in various states of undress with attitudes ranging (often depending on the outcome of the game they just played) from happy and friendly to pissed off and bitter. And that doesn’t even get in to their underlying personalities – everything from the team leader type, to the chill, personable guy who will strike up a casual conversation after the real interview’s over, to the brooding one in the corner trying to avoid your incessant line of questioning and just get out of there.

One of the tokens of wisdom my boss bestowed to me, on the first day of my college internship with a professional sports team, was “Get in, ask your questions and get out. Keep your eyes up, and don’t just stand around.” Soon added to the list was “Don’t step on the team logo in the center of the room” and “Go do the interview! Quick, before he takes his pants off!”

Ah, yes, the ways we make this odd relationship work. And maybe I was just lucky, or maybe the players I worked with (I hope, like most) had class and respect, but I never had an incident, so to speak.

That’s why this whole Ines Sainz spectacle really bugs me. Other female journalists reported the incident, other players are sounding out about it, and the peanut gallery keeps saying Sainz “deserved it” because she was dressed (pardon me) like a whore. That’s about as logical as saying someone “deserves” to be a victim of rape.

Clinton Portis’s inane comment about “put[ting] a woman [in a locker room] and giv[ing] her a choice of 53 athletes” is, thank you very much, the stupidest effing thing I’ve ever heard. Players and reporters alike are professionals. It doesn’t matter if you think someone’s attractive – go gush to your friends about it after – because you are doing your job when you are in the locker room.

Did I think certain players were cute? Never! (*cough*Yes!*cough*) But I never used that position in the locker room to voice that opinion because if such a situation were the other way around – if Sainz, or any female reporter any reporter, period, made a sexist remark – the offending party would have been thrown out of that locker room sofast. Why shouldn’t such a player face such punishment?

The funny thing is, despite all of this, I can’t quite figure out what side I’m on.

As an (aspiring) sports journalist, and with a sports internship that I miss (a lot) under my belt, I feel for Sainz and every other female reporter in that male-dominated world. But that makes me sound antiquated because it’s the sort of crap people spew when they want to complain about inequality.

The truth is, there are plenty of excellent female reporters out there, many of whom are well-respected by players and fellow reporters, haven’t been the center of media attention (good and bad), and have the job they do because they’re good at what they do, not partially because they’re “hot.” They understand the rules, dress appropriately, and “get in and get out.”

So maybe Sainz, who isn’t usually a guest in the Jets locker room, didn’t quite get it. But being a TV personality herself, she probably “got” what she was doing when she went on a zillion talk shows to talk about the incident. Maybe TV Azteca reporters usually wear outfits many of us would deem inappropriate for work. But, again, that doesn’t give anyone the right to make comments, unless it’s someone helpfully suggesting she change.

Sally Jenkins, a Washington Post sports columnist, more or less sums up how I feel. This is 2010 – why is this even a problem?

Music is Art: More than Just Music and Art

Wow, that was a really cheesy headline. Sorry. But seriously, Music is Art’s name doesn’t even begin to cover everything the festival has.

Yesterday’s acts ranged from interpretive dance to escape artists and everything in between — children’s performances, hair (temporary) coloring, orchestral music…seriously, everything. Buffalo’s performing arts community has some incredibly talented people, and this festival is easily the city’s best chance to see it all in one place.

The only problem with that? There is so much to see that you can’t possibly see it all — easily the most disappointing realization of the day. I didn’t spend any time at the country/bluegrass/americana/hip-hop stage out front or nearly as much time as I should have checking out all the art vendors. And I was running back and forth between the main stages so much that I completely missed out on the party that developed over at the DJ stage. I did, however, become a pro at climbing around the Albright-Knox steps.

A quick rundown of my personal highlights:

  • Finally getting to see Nelson Starr and the Benjamins, The Innocent Bystanders and Free Henry! Also, discovering Iceberg, who, as I mentioned on Twitter, remind me of Barenaked Ladies for some reason.
  • Being completely surprised by a band I believe is named Junction 5. They’re young (or, at the very least, they look young), but man, can they play their instruments well.
  • Magician Greg Frewin and escape artist Jonathan Bryce — or, more accurately, the crowd’s reactions, which ranged from “How’d they do that?!” to “Ew, why would anyone hang upside down in a straightjacket??”. Watching their tricks was entertaining, but it was more entertaining hearing everyone’s commentary, kids and adults alike.
  • Seeing some great women musicians. I, sadly, missed Dallas Pace (there was a little incident with a very bad sunburn), but I enjoyed Erin Sydney Welsh and Grace Stumberg immensely. I caught a short set of ’90s covers by Stumberg at Tudor Lounge back in April and was really excited to hear her own material. She most definitely did not disappoint.
  • Totally un-music-related, but Oh. My. Gaaaaaaaahd, the tacos from Lloyd Taco Truck are just epic. So epic that I also had a burrito for dinner later on.

Favorite quotes of the day:

  • Robby Takac on The Lake Effect: “Five men with microphones and no instruments!…I’d rather have surgery myself.”
  • Lorraine O’Donnell on Music is Art: “We’re so lucky, and I have to say personally, as a member of the cultural community…if it wasn’t for Robby Takac and all the people that work with him, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
  • Robby Takac on the Mark Freeland exhibit: “Mark was always so excited about this. To me, it feels like, to not have him here would be too weird, so we involve him every single year and make sure he’s represented, because I would have asked him to be here, and he would have said yes.”

Music is Art 2010: Virtual Coverage

The Important Details:

I’ve checked out the schedules for today, and I’ve got to say, you’re crazy if you don’t at least stop by. A Mark Freeland exhibit? A DJ tent? Come on, even the Lloyd Taco Truck will be there (I might be most excited to finally try these tacos)!

It's All About the Music (is Art)

The Music is Art Festival is not what it was in 2003 — a few bands playing on one tiny stage in the old Chameleon West parking lot to a crowd made up of a few who were there just for the music and most who wandered over from the neighboring Allentown Art Festival. My parents humored me and sat on one of those cement things at the top of a parking spot while I watched a short set by Klear, a band that is no longer together but still near and dear to my heart.

After seven years, a few venue changes (do we really need to rehash that art v. music battle that left the festival stranded at the Erie County Fair?) and a date change, the Music is Art Festival is so much more. Art, dance, music and children’s activities combine in a way no one probably imagined they would back in 2003 in that parking lot.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to attend — four, actually; that college thing sort of got in the way — so I am wicked excited that this year I’m not only going to the festival, I’m covering it for the website. I’m excited to see how the festival events play out across the grounds of the Albright-Knox. I’m excited to remember how great the local entertainment scene in Buffalo is — because, you’ve got to hand it to us, we’ve got some pretty kick-ass, creative people around here.

The bands I saw there in the early years may or may not still be around — I particularly remember getting a photo with the lead singer of Seven Day Faith one year, having a cool conversation with the guys in Ghostrunner another, and an acid trip of a set by Anal Pudding yet another time — but a whole new crop of musicians, artists and dancers await.

So, you tell me — whose set should I check out? Who should I try and talk to? What do you want me to report back about? I’ll try and cover as much as I can through Twitter, photos, video and some posts back here after it’s all said and done (sung and danced? Bad pun).

And by the way — it’s good to be back! Life’s been busy this summer, and full of plenty of changes. But I’ve missed this site. I promise not to go missing again.

Help for Compass House, Backed by Some Big Names

Most of us are lucky enough to have never worried about having a safe place to live. Most of us have never, and will never, run away from home. Most of us were never, or will never be, a teenager living on the streets.

But next week, those of us who have never lived in that situation have a chance to help those who do – and get some pretty sweet swag in exchange.

The 8th annual Rock the House Auction to benefit Compass House, a Western New York youth shelter, will take place from May 9-16. The auction is run by Absolute Goo, a fan site for one of Buffalo’s most famous exports, the Goo Goo Dolls.

“Compass House is a fantastic group of people that give so much of themselves to help runaway and homeless kids, and we’re proud to be able to help join with them in this effort,” the site’s webmaster, who prefers to only be known as AG.

In the aftermath of 9/11, “we wanted to do something collectively, to express our gratefulness for what we have been given,” AG said. Given the Goo Goo Dolls ties to the city, a Buffalo-based charity was the perfect fit. AG had heard good things about Compass House’s work, “so they seemed like a natural choice.”

The Goo Goo Dolls have thrown their support behind the auction, too. Along with donating everything from tour memorabilia to personal phone calls, their endorsement has given “national exposure to a local issue,” said Candice Fletcher, Compass House Development Director.

Compass House/Absolute Goo Rock the House auction“It’s like one of those amazing, anonymous benefactor things that falls into your lap,” Fletcher said.

As Buffalo’s only shelter and service provider for both male and female runaway and at-risk youth, and one of the oldest shelters in the United States, Compass House operates both an emergency shelter on Linwood Avenue and a resource center on Main Street. The shelter is always open and always staffed, providing immediate access to both a place to stay and counseling services, while the resource center houses the counseling program, independent living program, Street Outreach Program, and Safe Place.

Compass House maintains agreements with over 50 community agencies to help the youth they serve, and volunteers assist a small paid staff at both the shelter and resource center. In 2009, 348 youths were provided with 2,074 days of shelter, food and care at the emergency shelter, and a total of 611 calls were made to the shelter’s help line, according to the Compass House website. The resource center helped 223 youths with case management.

Compass House receives funding from a multitude of sources – the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Erie County Department of Young Services, Episcopal Community Services, state legislation, donations and grants – but much of the money comes with restrictions and requirements.

“The auction gives us an incoming stream of unrestricted funds,” said Fletcher. “It’s a luxury to be able to have this additional pot.”

And since Compass House’s funding was cut by $120,000 this year, the money is especially needed.

Last year’s auction drew over four million hits, with bidders from nine countries, according to Absolute Goo. Over $50,000 has been raised to date, every last penny of which goes straight to Compass House.

Items for this year’s auction come from not only the Goo Goo Dolls themselves, but bands like Cheap Trick and the Rolling StonesVH1, Grateful Graffiti, Epiphone Guitars, and a multitude of other donors.

“It’s this beautiful symmetry because music generally speaks to a young population,” Fletcher said.

Pretty N.E.R.D-y

Sometimes a band or an artist will come out of nowhere and totally blow your mind.

Perhaps you’ve heard a song or two and don’t care for the music. Or you’re casual fan, but don’t necessarily think they’re totally spectacular. Or you just assumed you wouldn’t like the music based on genre or preconceived notions.

But then, you have some encounter that changes all that. You hear a song on the radio, or you see a performance, or, I don’t know, you randomly run into the band in a bar one night — whatever the moment, you’re impressed. You’re smiling, maybe a little slack-jawed, and probably using phrases like “frickin’ awesome” or “absolutely unbelievable.”

Because it is sort of unbelievable, to you at least. This band can’t possibly be that band you don’t like. You would never be caught dead with that band‘s music on your iPod. There’s no way that band could do something so cool, be such awesome people, put on such a kick-ass show, whatever. But suddenly you want to tell all your friends to forget what they think about that band and check out this band ASAP.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” or so the saying goes.

Well, don’t judge a band by their place on the record store shelves.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

I would have never given N.E.R.D a chance if free tickets and/or Three Days Grace hadn’t been involved.

I arrived at UB’s Springfest this past Saturday too early or too late for my liking, depending on how you look at it. I’d already missed Lady Danville — who I’d never heard of until UB booked them, was excited to see, and who I’ve since heard won over the crowd, most of which held one or both of those sentiments as well — but I still had to sit through Anberlin and N.E.R.D to get to Three Days Grace.

As my Pharrell-obsessed friend worked her way up front for N.E.R.D, I hung back. I didn’t need to be enveloped in sweat and B.O. just yet.

Their set started out as expected. A zillion (OK, two or three), seemingly-unnecessary backup rappers/posse members crowded the stage in front of the band, and I made jokes to myself and prepared for what was about to assault my poor ears.

And I got what I expected — for a little  bit. Right around the time they started rapping Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (yes, there are two “r”s, and, yes, I know that off the top of my head; don’t judge me), I almost gave up. Springfest is supposed to be rock, so what were these guys doing there?

But then the mood totally changed. There were mosh pits and crowd-surfing. There were drums, guitars, bass and keyboards. It just so happened the guy singing had a super-smooth, R&B-style voice.

And I found myself grooving to the music without knowing it.

When it comes down to it, N.E.R.D actually is a rock band — not straightforward rock, but funk-rock, pop-rock and/or electronic-rock. They just combine it with hip-hop and R&B, which many rap-rock bands don’t. It gives them an advantage, because they’d fit well on a bill with a band like 3OH!3 and a band like The Roots. And — here’s the cool part — they rarely sample, like many hip-hop/rap/R&B acts do. All those beats, they’re totally theirs. That deserves some serious respect.

They also deserve it for two more things that many bands don’t do (or don’t do well), the first of which is involving the crowd. With rare exceptions, there’s nothing worse than when a band gets on stage and just plays. So when Pharrell not only pulled people on stage, but tried his hardest to get everyone in the arena involved, including the fairly-disinterested crowd in the stands, I started to take him more seriously.

The second thing he did was look out for the fans. Moshing and crowdsurfing can get dangerous, especially when there’s people in the crowd who aren’t out to have fun, but have an intent to injure for one reason or another. Something happened in the front of the crowd near the end of N.E.R.D’s set, and instead of ignoring it and continuing, Pharrell stopped and called out the guy involved, essentially telling him to cut it out, because what he was doing wasn’t cool.

And that’s, without a doubt, one of the coolest thing a band can do.

Remembering Forgotten Buffalo

I am what you might call a “fake” Buffalonian.

I was born in Connecticut, and my family moved here when I was almost six for my mom’s job. Before that, we really didn’t have any ties to the area; my dad went to Buff State and grew up in Rochester, but that’s the closest we go. We certainly don’t have generations of Stefano family members living in South Buffalo, Kaisertown, or wherever it is Germans and/or a conglomeration of Italian and pretty much every other European country would live.

We live in the suburbs — always have, despite my constant pleas, once I entered high school, to move into the city — and I’m probably the family member who’s in Buffalo proper the most. I left the area for school with, I confess, every intention of not returning.

My accent is mostly Buffalo — using “the” before highways, flattening my A’s, etc. — but, having first learned to talk in Connecticut, there’s a slight enough New England tweak to it, even 21 years later, to make my freshman year roommate balk when she heard my “real” Buffalonian boyfriend say “haackey.”

(To which I would say — really, Bostonians making fun of our accents?? But I digress…)

Despite all of this, we (my family and I) consider ourselves Buffalonians. It’s not like five is old enough to really have ties to an area, despite how much I bawled my eyes out when we left. Connecticut/the east coast is a foreign, preppy world that I (not-so-secretly anymore) now thank God I didn’t grow up in. I would be an entirely different person had we stayed in Connecticut.

But the thing is, sometimes I feel like a “fake” Buffalonian because I don’t remember so many of the things that make Buffalo Buffalo. And, with the exception of my dad in city of no illusionscertain cases, my family doesn’t either. Clearly, not being alive in the 1970’s, I’m not going to remember how the city looked before the steel mills closed and we put a highway through the East Side, but sometimes I wish I could remember it more, if not through my memories, then through those of my family.

Then, in my Easter Day boredom, I came across Forgotten Buffalo. Of course I’ve heard of the organization before, and I knew they did tours, but what I’ve been most enthralled with for the past couple hours are the pictures they have on the website and Facebook — old buildings, the steel mills alive and operating, hilarious (in that why would you put a roof over Main Street??) plans for the Metro Rail, and many, many more. They’ve built a little collection over there through the best historians you can find — the people who lived it.

I have my own, slightly newer and younger version of those memories — some day I will be telling my children about “this really awesome place called New World Records that I used to spend hours in after school. It’s now that [insert whatever; hopefully still SpOt].” — but I want to know about the more distant ones. The history of this area fascinates me — not so much the stuff they taught us in 4th grade social studies (though that’s interesting in its own way), but the social and cultural stuff that you learn about through family stories that begin with, “There was this club called The Continental…”

So, as you’re perusing the site with a post-Easter dinner ham hangover, tell me your stories. Show me pictures. Give me website links. I want to hear about your favorite old hangouts, closed restaurants and clubs, and all those other memories. Mostly, I want to know — where the heck was the Thruway Mall?? Seriously, Google turned up zilch, and I didn’t even know such a place existed.

But after that’s answered, I want to hear all the good stuff, too.

Two Completely Unrelated, Yet Interesting, Things

Hipsters on Food Stamps

I must be missing something here because I’m really not seeing what, as the second half or so of the article mentions, people find so wrong with this. If you qualify for food stamps, you qualify for food stamps. It’s not as though the government is breaking the rules by giving the people in this story food stamps, and the recipients aren’t breaking the rules when using them. They aren’t using up their allotments, then begging for more.

Food stamps recipients are able to use the money for whatever they choose to buy that fits the program’s guidelines, and, if both sugary foods and drinks and healthy, organic ingredients are within those guidelines, wouldn’t you rather food stamp recipients use the money to buy the latter? If anything, the government and those in charge of the program could learn something from this — food stamp guidelines should be stricter, giving those receiving the benefits little option but to eat healthier. We are so concerned about obesity in this country, and studies have shown that the poor are more likely to be overweight because the worse a food is for you, in general, the cheaper it is. If these “hipsters” can maintain a healthy diet on food stamps, why can’t everyone?

I really wish the article had mentioned how much these people make. I’m very, very curious to know how much these people make. I wonder if there are more 20- and 30-something out there who are eligible for food stamps, but just don’t know it or wouldn’t consider it because of the stigma attached.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Universal Announces Plan to Lower CD Prices to $10 or Less

All I have to say about this is “Yes!”

I don’t like buying music online — if I’m going to pay $10 for an album, I want something tangible. I like the feeling of taking the wrapping off a CD and putting it into my CD player. Honestly, it’s the only way I really listen to an entire album all the way through. Thus, I look forward to FYE’s $9.99 sales. And, now, I’m really looking forward to this new plan.

Because, you see, CDs are wicked expensive. I’m totally unopposed to paying for a CD I really want or something by a band I really like, but when I’m just browsing and see something interesting, I’m usually turned off of it because it’s $15-$20. Um, hello, I’m paying for insurance(s), clothing, and social events here, and I’m not making a ton of money. As much as I love music, I’d much rather put that $20 towards a live show than a CD that I can (shhh!) find online for free.

I have a hard time understanding how any executive could be quoted as saying “Why does Universal feel the need to get below $10?”

Um…why not? Clearly, if sales are down, there’s something wrong with the current model. If those lower prices generate a huge jump in sales, it’s probably the price. Always lower price = always (OK, usually is probably a safer word) higher sales. I don’t have a business degree, nor am I much of a business person, but, really, I can even figure that one out.